A Bright and Exciting Future

Beautiful listening in Munich. Photo: Michael Lavorgna

Last week, AudioStream’s Michael Lavorgna and InnerFidelity’s Tyll Hertsens shared their insights and images from the 2013 Munich High End Show. In case you missed it, Michael, Tyll, and AnalogPlanet’s Michael Fremer, provided further coverage at their respective sites. I highly recommend checking out their show reports. It makes up some of the best show coverage I’ve read anywhere—a testament not only to my colleagues’ passion and skill, but also to the utter brilliance of the Munich High End Show, which continues to set the bar for high-end audio shows worldwide.

As ML notes in his wrap, when it comes to the Munich show, there’s one opinion expressed time and time again: “It’s how all hi-fi shows should be.”

This holds true in my experience, as well. I’ve heard it said, and I’ve said so myself. So, we have to ask ourselves: Can all hi-fi shows be as efficiently run, popular, successful, and downright fun as the Munich High End Show? Is it possible to cultivate, here in the United States, that combination of heartfelt enthusiasm, relaxed atmosphere, and healthy balance of substance and style?

Maybe not.

It may be that Munich’s success is something that cannot be easily replicated—it would take too radical a shift in our cultural priorities, too radical a shift in our relationship with technology, music, and people. But, we can certainly move in that direction.

It would mean understanding that sound isn’t everything. It would mean adapting to new technologies, allowing those technologies to provide customers with useful services and products. In turn, it would require from high-end audio manufacturers the good sense to get with the times, to provide customers with the services and products they really want. It would mean sharing with our friends and families—especially those who do not consider themselves first and foremost audiophiles—the appreciation of a high-quality listening experience and maximizing the joy such an experience can bring.

Actually, that doesn’t sound very difficult at all. Maybe it can happen. In fact, I think it is happening. The success of North American shows such as the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Salon Son et Image, and the upcoming Home Entertainment Show Newport Beach, combined with the continued popularity in the analog, computer audio, desktop audio, and headphone markets, points to a bright and exciting future for the hi-fi industry.

dalethorn's picture

Can we get consumers to these shows? Can we display products and gadgets that middle-income consumers can afford? Can we get the affordable products to the consumers who attend these shows before they lose interest and spend their discretionary income on something else?

cgh's picture

Alas, Heisenberg's priciple for all things on the fringe in life tells us that the more people that show up the less enjoyment we can extract.  RMAF is a great example of something that geographically keeps it from sucking (cf new shows in NY or SoCal..)

roadster's picture

I'm not familiar with Heisenberg but his theory rings true for me. It's been decades since I attended a convention...around the birth of the cdp. Rooms were jam packed, music blaired, hucksters pitching their products. Never was able to sit for a serious listen to any of the equipment. Best thing about the show was that I got a couple free casstte and reel-to-reel tapes.

Since then I've only gone to my local brick-and-morter store to hear the equipment that I can afford...and where the service is much more personable.

They do appear to have become much more consumer oriented...thank goodness. Maybe I'll try one.

Bill B's picture

Just slightly, vaguely creepy:  a photo caption "Beautiful listening" highlighting a young lady, whom I'm guessing did not know her picture was being taken?

christopher3393's picture

I find the blatant  sexual exploitation of hired "eye candy" at many shows to be a bit creepy. This picture is flattering, I think.

dalethorn's picture

"But I tell you, you are beautiful..." - Spock to Zarabeth, All Our Yesterdays.

jmsent's picture

An attractive young lady looking rather perplexed over a butt ugly pair of contraptions that are squauking out sound, while 2 guys, utterly unaware of her presence, stand there and gab away.  Looks like a typical hi end show to me.

cgh's picture

I'll take the other side and assume that the photog thought that she looked pensive and engaged in the experience - totally innocent.

audiocaptain's picture

John Valin quote from The Absolute Sound

"Not since 1994, when the Summer CES stopped camping out yearly along Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, has the Windy City played annual host to a large high-end audio show. That situation will certainly change after this past weekend’s AXPONA Chicago 2013.

Held on March 8-10 in the Doubletree By Hilton O’Hare hotel, the first Chi-town Audio Expo North America was by anyone’s reckoning a smashing success. There were quite literally thousands of attendees (more traffic, AXPONA organizers claim, than at any U.S. show outside of CES), scores of exhibits on five hotel floors, and enough very good sound to make the event non-stop fun even for a jaded old reviewer like me. I will definitely be coming back, along with the four thousand (and climbing) high-end-audio-starved Chicagoans who braved the dreary March weather. (Manufacturers and exhibitors take note!)"


Robert Harley Quote from The Absolute Sound

"The Chicago AXPONA show was a bit of a gamble—as is any first show in a city—but this is one gamble that paid off. The Doubletree Hotel at O’Hare airport featured many fine-sounding exhibits, excellent organization, and most importantly, throngs of enthusiastic attendees (the official count was 4386). The showgoers I spoke with were happy to have a hi-fi show in the Midwest after a 14-year absence."

Robert Youman Quote from Positive Feedback

"AXPONA is not CES and does not pretend to be. However, for passionate audiophiles located in the Midwest, I think this 2013 event hit the nail on the head. I hope that this is the beginning of a new tradition! Plans for 2014 are said to be on the drawing board. Thank you Steve Davis for putting on such a great show."

Jason Sirenus Quote from Stereophile

"I don’t know what the sound was like at Chicago’s last consumer audio show, sponsored byStereophile, which took place in the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop in 1999, but at the Doubletree, a large number of dealers and manufacturers managed to produce good to excellent sound within the confines of hotel rooms that they had never before exhibited in."


AXPONA arranged for two trailer loads of acoustic treatment from ATS to help make certain the sound was waht it should be for a High -End Audio Show.

The Absolute Sound has in print for the May/June Issue a 15 page report of AXPONA. 

Please visit our site and see for yourself why AXPONA should be included in Successful Shows


John Atkinson's picture

>Jonathan Valin quote from The Absolute Sound:
"Not since 1994, when the Summer CES stopped camping out yearly along Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, has the Windy City played annual host to a large high-end audio show."<

I have to laugh at the strenuous attents some other magazines and their staff go to to avoid using the word "Stereophile." In fact, the last big consumer audio show in Chicago was the 1999 Stereophile Show. This show was where Sony launched SACD and it was significantly larger than any of the modern-day events.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

audiocaptain's picture

AXPONA will be an annual event for Chicago. I believe that if it refered to a single show it would be correct to use the Stereophile show as a reference. We have a five year plan to build the show and add many new and progressive components while forging a relationship with the Chicago dealers , manufacturers and media. The 2014 show has already reached more exhibit rooms than 2013 and we have yet to open the room sales to new companies. We expect a dramatic increase in attendees being that the event will be late April instead of early March. Music Direct will once again be helping with marketing and other important areas of the event.

Stereophile set a benchmark for shows of this ilk and we hope to raise the bar even further over the years.

audiocaptain's picture

I think it's important to also let everyone know that Stereophile has played a very important part in AXPONA's success. We are very greateful for all the support shown AXPONA and for the coverage and participation that has continued thru all five events. It is most impressive the time and energy that is given in support of all events by Stereophile and others. It is no small task, and certainly at great expense, they have made themselves available and work so diligently to bring as much of the show to the public as possible. Along with the coverage, the contributions to seminars and panels is an amazing expression of their dedication to the industry. Thanks again to Stereophile!

alparls's picture

As an American and hi-fi enthusiast living in Germany and someone who has attended the last 3 Munich shows, I can perhaps give my take on the show.

The Munich show is very well organized, very well marketed and takes place at a pleasant venue that is in many ways ideal for this type of show.  A few weeks prior to the show one can find posters and information posted throughout the city, advertising the show to as many potential visitors as possible.  During the show free shuttle buses are organized to run frequently and many hotels in the area offer discounts, making the experience for many both pleasurable and more affordable.

There is indeed a diverse mix of visitors to the show, from young couples to tech junkies to parents with children.  I think part of this can be attributed to how well the show is marketed and part of this can be attributed to the fact that the show takes place in Germany, where I have noticed a much broader public interest in events such as these.  Stand in line to enter a hi-fi show in the US and you’re surrounded by middle aged males who consider hi-fi a serious hobby.  Stand in line to enter an exhibition opening at an art museum in the US and you’re surrounded by art enthusiasts.  Stand in line to enter either of these kinds of events in Germany and the mix of visitors is much more diverse.

The products are displayed at the show in a way that feels much more like a “lifestyle” event and less a tour of confusing, gadget filled rooms.  Germans tend to be thrifty savers yet are typically willing to fork out a chunk of cash for high quality products that they see as good investments that improve their quality of life.  I think this also contributes to the impressive turnout at this show every year.

These are of course just some my observations.  I am sure there are many other factors as well at play here…

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thank you for sharing your excellent and insightful observations.

audiocaptain's picture

Munich has become a major trade event for the industry. I was speaking to someone who I've known for some years, while attending the Munich Show, and he made a very interesting observation. I should mention he is a strong international distributor with much insight into what's happening from that level. With the difficulty entering the U.S. for many international travelers the show in Munich is quickly becoming the most important show for international business. This dosen't appear to be something that CES is overly concerned about as they are not as dedicated to this industry segment as in the past. Also the Munich show has a tremendous amount of support from manufacturers which contributes to the overall availability of funds for advertising and promotion. 

My observation was that most of the time spent by key people, from the participating companies, dedicated the majority of their time in meetings and events promoting their international business. They also spent time with dealers from around Europe and this is a missing component in U.S shows until now. 

At AXPONA 2014 a special event is specifically designed for this interaction, mainly for dealers in the U.S. and around the Chicago area, and manufacturers from around the world and from this country. I firmly believe this will begin a trend enhancing the overall event and bringing more manufacturer participation as well as enhanced dealer participation.

Dealer / Manufacturer Meeting and Banquet April 23  4:00 - 8:00 main Ballroom Westin O'Hare  (Exhibitor Setup April 24 - Show dates 25-27 April, 2014)

bracondale's picture

Apart from the city of Munich, I think that the secret of success is the use of that wonderful exhibition centre, instead of a hotel.

No hotel, no matter how glamerous can compete with those large demonstration rooms and the especially wide and well lit public spaces within the centre as compared to narrow cramped badly lit overcrowded hotel corridors and pokey little cramped hotel rooms.

I managed to miss Munich this year, but I would sooner travel to Munich to see that show than attend any number of shows in the UK, despite the large difference in cost.

I am not aware that we have a facility to compete with the Munich Exhibiton Centre in the UK.

DetroitVinylRob's picture

I would agree somewhat with Stephen and alparls observations, to my mind, this is more a part of the differences in culture, and of many major european urban enviroments, or even to some extent like Montreal's Salon Son & Image (not just Munich, Germany, but maybe more profoundly they are the epidemy) as compared to American venues and American consumers. The CES in Vegas being the perfect juxtaposition. One can change the content, the presentation, all one likes, but it doesn't change the context one bit. Too bad. Munich has what many of us would prefer to share and have as a representation of our beloved hobby.

Happy Listening!